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The Alcohol Experiment: how to fix your relationship with booze in 30 days

Time:2019-01-12 15:37wine - Red wine life health Click:

Health And Wellbeing

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock  

When it comes to questioning our drinking habits, everyone has their own tipping point. It could be the office party you can't quite recall; the cold-shouldered disapproval from your partner, the morning after the night before; the Dry January peer pressure, rivalled this year only by the record numbers signing up for Veganuary.

For high-flying executive-turned self-help author, Annie Grace, it was accidentally drenching her two small children with beer as the family queued for the London Eye, one Saturday morning.

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"I'd been out the night before for work, which meant drinking heavily," she says. "The next day I felt really lousy but my husband and I had promised the kids a day out, so I slipped a large can of beer into my handbag from the hotel minibar, which I intended to drink after midday as a pick-me-up."

When American-born Grace and her husband neared the front of the line, she opened her bag for the security check, having forgotten about the beer.

"The can fell on to the ground and exploded, spraying both my sons, who were two and six at the time," she recounts. "I tried to make a big joke of it and laugh, but inside I was dying of shame and mortification."

It was this incident - the culmination of too many humiliations to remember, during what Grace now terms her "corporate drinking" decades - that prompted her to take stock of how her habit was affecting her health, happiness and family.

The result was her first, self-published book, The Naked Mind, which detailed her quest to rediscover happiness without recourse to wine (or feeling deprived in the process). The book garnered a huge online following and sold so well that it soon attracted major publishing houses on both sides of the Atlantic.

This last week has seen the publication of her second book, entitled The Alcohol Experiment: 30 days to take control, cut down or give up for good, which might sound like it diverges little from Dry January, but promises a crucial difference. Rather than whiteknuckling it to the end of the month, counting down the days until you can return to your old ways, it sounds a clarion call to look objectively, enquiringly and unflinchingly into our personal relationship with booze - with the aim of rethinking it for good.

To be clear, this is not for those with a physical addiction to alcohol, but for the very many more of us who are of two minds about drinking - we may have no desire to quit, but still wonder whether we overdo it a bit; we try to cut back, but feel like we're missing out when we do; we're tired of waking up slightly hungover, but can't truly relax without a glass of something at the end of the day.

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"Some of the smartest and most successful people in the world drink more than they want to," writes Grace. So not finding it easy to cut back doesn't mean there's anything wrong with us.

Having always instinctively cavilled at the zeal of militant Dry Janissaries, I have only ever attempted the full month off myself, at the behest of this paper - and found it an irritatingly huge effort, which didn't affect my drinking habits thereafter.

Reading Grace's book and mulling over her findings was more of an eye-opener. It wasn't so much her copper-bottomed assertion that alcohol is a carcinogen (which it is) or addictive (which it also is) that struck a chord. It was more the detailed analysis of what, exactly, happens when you drink.

In short: you get a 20-minute high but as soon as that wears off the alcohol has a depressive effect, so you reach for another drink to combat the low mood caused by the first - and so on.

"Alcohol overstimulates the pleasure centres in the brain, and numbs us which, after a hard day, is an attractive feeling," admits Grace. "After that first glass, it's pretty much downhill. But in our drinking culture the only question we ever ask is 'Am I an alcoholic?' and if the answer is 'No', which it usually is, we carry on. What I'm advocating is mindfulness, not abstinence."

The full 30-day programme tackles the symbiotic relationship between alcohol and every area of life, from boredom and cravings, to parenting, sleep, sex and socialising. The idea is you read that day's recommendations in the morning, and put them into practice during the day, jotting down how you feel, physically and emotionally as you go.

"Magic happens in 30 days," writes Grace. "It's a period of time when the brain can actually change - by making new neural connections - to build great new habits or to eliminate habits that have held you back."

I reached my epiphany by day six (why willpower doesn't last for long), by which time I realised, or rather was reminded, that not drinking for a week or two feels a bit like a holiday, but without liberal quantities of the local hooch, obviously.

"I thought wine was the cement that held things together. Turns out it was the crowbar, prising everything apart," Grace says, reflectively. "There's all this humour centred round women drinking; you see it on greetings cards and plaques that say things like 'You're not drinking alone if the kids are in the house', but none of it is funny."

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